University personnel are ever watchful of the content of student information to be shared with others, as well as with whom it is to be shared. Faculty concerns frequently focus on maintaining the privacy of student grades and other related indicators of academic performance. In many instances a parent is simply wanting to know the grades of a daughter or son, unaware that such information cannot be released without the student’s prior written consent. This is also the case for staff dealing with a third party wanting information about a student’s GPA or financial aid status.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, a.k.a. the Buckley Amendment, serves as the guideline for how public and private institutions receiving federal aid share students’ educational records. FERPA broadly defines educational records as “any record maintained by the institution about a student.” This information can be either directory (public) or non-directory (private), and the release of private information to anyone other than the student is restricted unless the student gives written consent or the court orders it. There are, however, some exceptions:
…a health or safety emergency, if the information is necessary to resolve the emergency; or to those within the university itself who have a “legitimate educational interest.” Thus, release within a school is permissible for legitimate educational purposes—for example, to a faculty member who needs information about a student enrolled in her course, or even to a school’s accounts receivable clerk who is attempting to collect a student’s outstanding tuition debt. (Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook, NACADA, 2000.)
When university officials are sharing information of "legitimate educational interest," they are advised to keep correspondences as brief and factual, focusing on the immediate student concern. Remember that a student does have the right to request a review of any of her/his public records.